Washington-based naval expert Chris Cavas interviewed David Portner, the program manager at Northrop Grumman, about the VLWT.
In May 2020, Northrop Grumman successfully manufactured and tested the first industry-built VLWT for the U.S. Navy. Applying its engineering and manufacturing expertise, Northrop Grumman improved upon the VLWT baseline design to replace high-cost components and drive overall affordability, reproducibility and reliability.
VLWT can be used both as an anti-submarine weapon or an anti-torpedo systems. Its small size (121 mm in diameter) means it could be deployed from submarine’s 6 inch decoy launching systems. David Portner told Naval News that the VLWT uses a thermal battery system. Most of its performance figures are classified. 80 VLWT have been produced so far, including 32 torpedoes with warheads.
“Penn State developed it, you could essentially classify it as a prototype weapon right now, with early operational use. It is now at the point where the Navy wants to transition it to industry and essentially modify the design so that it can be designed for manufacture in a high rate production environment. That is going to be a competition […] We expect the request for proposal to come out this fall, in the next couple of months. The Navy would very quickly make a decision after that. We expect they will select the winner either later this year or early next year with a contract award in early 2022. That will allow us to much more quickly get into the evaluation and design changes necessary to be able to produce these in a normal manufacturing environment.”
David Portner, VLWT program manager, Northrop Grumman
According to Northrop Grumman, if placed in the same water as the target, the VLWT will search, detect and engage with more maneuverability and anti-torpedo capability than its larger counterparts. Its small size effectively adds magazine depth to a submarine allowing it to defend itself efficiently from a single threat to an entire swarm. Additionally, its size allows it to be deployed from airplanes or even from a helicopter – making it possible to deploy the VLWT directly above an enemy submarine. This is a tremendous advantage for the warfighter, making it almost impossible for the submarine to evade a hit.